New statistics released by Bloomberg New Energy Finance showed that solar power is out-performing fossil fuels and even wind energy, suggesting the global energy market has reached a major turning point.
Though solar power was shunned for years due to its high and often prohibitive cost, that is quickly becoming a thing of the past. New statistics from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) released last Thursday show that solar has become a cheaper form of electricity production than wind power, and is also out-competing coal and natural gas for the first time. With solar power slated to become the cheapest form of producing electricity, it appears that global energy markets are set to undergo a major transformation as the world begins to finally shift to energy that is both affordable and renewable.
In its new report, titled Climatescope, BNEF analyzed the conditions for clean energy investment on and off the grid in 58 emerging markets (i.e. “developing” nations). In these nations, unsubsidized solar power was found to be out-competing coal and natural gas as well as other renewables, not just in individual projects, but on a large scale. The following chart shows the steep decline in the average cost of solar compared to wind among these 58 emerging markets, including major economies such as China, India, and Brazil. Overall, the price of solar has dropped to nearly a third of its 2010 cost.
This year, record after record for cheap solar power were set in government auctions, where private companies compete to receive lucrative contracts for providing electricity. The first of these took place in January when a contract in India managed to produce electricity for only $64 per megawatt-hour. Then in August, Chile shattered all previous records when a deal was made that would produce electricity using solar power for just $29.10 per megawatt-hour, nearly half the price of coal power.
Yet, these only represent new projects. Other projects, reaching completion this year, are also poised to break records once all 2016 completed solar power projects are tallied in the months ahead. Bloomberg notes that it is highly possible that the total amount of solar photovoltaic panels added globally will exceed that of wind turbines for the first time ever as the latest BNEF projections imply that 70 gigawatts of new solar power production will be completed this year, compared to only 59 gigawatts of wind.
However, this transformation is taking place largely in emerging markets. Wealthier nations have not seen the same success, likely due to the fact that it is difficult for solar to compete with already existing billion-dollar fossil fuel infrastructure as well as the fossil fuel lobby’s hold on federal and state governments. This is especially true in the United States, where solar power now has a difficult time competing with the massive subsidies the fossil fuel industry receives – driving their prices to artificial lows. Though solar power once received subsidies from the government, that program ended in December 2015 while the US continues to provide more than $37.5 billion in subsidies to producers of oil, gas and coal producers, up 45% from when President Obama took office in 2009. Under President-Elect Trump and his fossil fuel-friendly cabinet, such policies are unlikely to change.